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Sunday, 25 May 2008


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How times change. In 1919, according to Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein, the results of the Eddington expedition which confirmed Einstein's prediction concerning the bending of light by the Sun were announced by the Royal Society. The results both confirmed pro tem the Theory of Relativity and the overturning of the Newtonian world. The announcement was made by J J Thompson, the discoverer of the electron, Nobel laureate and President of the Royal Society.

How different it would be today if>this disgraceful response from the Royal Society's current president is typical of the Society's concern for the process and progress of science. Note the sentence "Those who promote fringe scientific views but ignore the weight of evidence are playing a dangerous game". Of course, Einstein did just that (or, rather, took account of evidence which the Newtonian world view could not accommodate) and was proved correct (or at least closer to the ultimate truth than Newton). On this evidence I wonder if Lord Rees would have been one of those who tried to rubbish Einstein's work in order to protect the Newtonian legacy by, among other things, dismissing the Theory of Relativity as "Jewish science".

To be fair, never a position I strive particularly hard to achieve, I don't know enough about Rees's background to be certain that he would ever use such a loaded phrase as "Jewish science", but as your link makes clear, there can be no doubt that when it comes to scientific method he is a very dim bulb! I am always struck by people who urge the danger of ignoring their dire warnings without ever putting before us the danger of following their precepts. I think of the money wasted in futile efforts to cure AIDS which could have been used to immense effect in simple things like water hygiene in Africa. The same thing applies, in spades, to the money about to be thrown away in gratification of medical researchers' ambitions for everlasting fame in finding a genetic cure for this, that or the other from embryonic stem cells, despite the fact that adult stem cells have been effective in over 70 different conditions for nearly 20 years. How much precious treasure is going to be washed down the drain in pursuit of the chimera of lowering Co2 levels?

To be as fair as you, I doubt that Rees would have been so crass as to have dismissed Einstein's work as "Jewish science". I put forward such a speculation solely to highlight the type of demonisation (of, in this case, AGW scepticism) in which even the highest reaches of the scientific establishment now feel free and are encouraged to indulge. However, as a general point and as you imply, in committing public funds to science and research there is always the danger of funding fashionable causes - particularly those which are supported by a narrowly focused, highly motivated and vociferous minority - at the expense of the more widely beneficial.

"the danger of funding fashionable causes - particularly those which are supported by a narrowly focused, highly motivated and vociferous minority"

Couldn't have put it better myself!

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